“Alright, Tom, watch carefully. There are many different ways in which qi can be used and you’re about to see one of them. This one’s actually quite powerful as well” said Adam to Tom.
“Mmn” acknowledged Tom, a little curious about what Marcus would do.
With his whole host of experience as a magic beast and then as a God, the rudimentary use of qi he was about to witness would be nothing more than a parlour trick to him, however, this was also a parlour trick he was not yet capable of. Even if he could reproduce the effects when he was in his true form and not stuck in the body of a human, it would not be the same. After all, the people of this world used qi, derived from Primal energy of the Cosmos’ four main types of energy, whereas he had formerly used mana as a magic beast and as a God he used Essence, another of the four main energies. Of course, there was some knowledge that was transferrable between the two, his experience and knowledge at manipulating energy undoubtedly already helping him to rapidly advance in cultivation, but, nevertheless, any use of qi he could observe; be it rudimentary or masterful, on a small scale or on a large scale, would be useful to him.
In this way, Tom watched on attentively as Marcus strode forward towards the Amoeba qi beast. The qi beast, sensing the approach of a high concentration of qi but oblivious to the threat it presented, continued to slowly ooze forward over the ground towards it.
As he was striding forward and getting closer to the qi beast, Marcus began to employ the 2nd stage of the qi technique that his father had been teaching him. Suddenly, the glow of qi could be seen as a half formed golden gauntlet formed around his right hand and lower arm.
Unfortunately for Marcus, although the technique his father had been teaching him was fairly powerful, better than the 2nd stage of the Cardinal clan’s Crimson Fury Fists, it was also harder to master than regular techniques and with his talents, he had not yet been able to perfect it, resulting in the half formed appearance that Tom and the others could see.
Nevertheless, he was undaunted by such a fact. Even if his skill at using qi wasn’t that high, he was still fairly talented at cultivating. Besides, as far as he was concerned, he was still young and had plenty of time to fully comprehend and master it, especially since qi techniques learnt in the realm of qi expansion could still be effectively used throughout higher realms of cultivation. As for the current situation, it was more than enough for what he was about to do. After all, even half formed; it was still a powerful technique.
Looking on though, Tom couldn’t help but judge Marcus’ display.
[His qi technique doesn’t appear to be complete. His control over it is poor. This won’t bode well for his future cultivation. Even if he can reach a high cultivation level, his combat strength will likely remain average for his level. Such is the curse of mediocrity]
Walking forward to just a few feet away from the Amoeba qi beast, Marcus waited for it to move a little closer before slamming his right fist, glad in the golden qi gauntlet, down on the beast.
The effect was immediately visible as Marcus’ hand went through the gooey body of the beast, accompanied by a soft thud when his hand hit the ground beneath it, and a large part of its orange body exploded outwards in all directions, a bit like when soup is brought to boil in a pot.
Tom could see that this first attack from Marcus had already reduced the size of the qi beast’s body by a third. What’s more, the parts of its body that were blasted away clearly showed no sign of movement, indicating that they had lost their life force and become inert.
After landing his first blow, Marcus raised his hand before slamming it down once again, aiming at the now smaller sized Amoeba that was finally starting to move away from him. Its intelligence may have been very low but after losing a third of its body it could tell that it was damaged and that it should move away from the qi source it had previously been moving towards. This however, made no difference to the outcome of the battle. With its slow speed, it couldn’t even get outside of Marcus’ striking distance before the next blow had landed.
Once again, Tom witnessed a large part of the gooey mass in front of him splatter all over, though this time he clearly heard a loud thud when Marcus’ fist impacted on the ground, an unsurprising result considering the beast was smaller now, with less depth to it, and when it was moving it would naturally flatten and extend its body along the ground.
Marcus proceeded to follow up his second punch with a few more blows on the remainder of the Amoeba’s body, quickly churning it up, the qi around his fist destroying its life force.
After a few more seconds, the beast’s body, which was now splattered all around in small blobs, was rendered completely motionless. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Marcus had succeeded in killing it and that it was now dead, never to rise again.
After landing his last blow, Marcus turned around and walked back over to the group, while trying the absorb the qi gauntlet he had formed back into his body, something he only partially achieved, the majority of it dissipating in the air.
“All done” said Marcus as he went to mount his horse.
“Thanks” said Adam gratefully before turning to look at Tom.
“So, Tom, were you able to see clearly? What did you think?” he asked.
Tom realised that openly criticising Marcus’ incomplete technique would be frowned upon so stopped himself from answering truthfully and took a moment to think of an appropriate response.
“There truly are countless techniques under the heavens and his clearly shows a different way to use qi then ours. It is a reminder that there is no one true path to divinity” answered Tom.
“Wow, that was pretty deep” marvelled Adam as both he and Marcus looked on at Tom in surprise.
“Haha, yes… well, it’s still quite similar to the Cardinal clan’s technique. For the truly unique techniques, you’d have to look at those which have a heavy emphasis on form change. Any of those from the big sects, such as the fire techniques of the Fireblaze Sect, the earth element techniques of the Iron Fist sect and water techniques of the Flowing Water sect are all good examples” said Marcus, pleased at Tom’s response.
It wasn’t an outright compliment on the technique or Marcus’ skill in using it, but, reading between the lines, Marcus believed that he’d discerned the deeper meaning behind Tom’s words. That the technique he was practicing, the technique that was being taught to him by his father, the technique of his clan, was in fact just as good as the techniques of the Cardinal clan and that it too was something worthy of awe.
Of course, he already believed it rivalled the Crimson Fury Fists fist art of the Cardinal clan, as did the rest of his clan, who all took pride in this martial technique of theirs, however, it was one thing to be self-assured in the strength of their technique and believe that it was just as good as other high ranked techniques, such as the Cardinal clan’s fist art, but another thing entirely for someone who had access to powerful techniques to in turn rate their Golden Gauntlets highly as well. That was why Tom’s words just now, comparing it to divinity, had truly hit Marcus’ soft spot and pleased him so.
Continuing on for another 2 hours, even though they had managed to increase their pace more than twofold from the slow drawl they had found themselves in after first leaving forest road, the most eventful thing they came across was another group of people making their way through the forest.
They had actually met a number of different qi beasts as they continued on but most of these would keep their distance from them and those that didn’t were low level and proved no challenge at all. Tom alone was more than enough to dispatch them to the afterlife.
Looking around them, Adam finally came to a decision, a decision which would lead them to their third eventful moment on this hunt.
“Alright, I think we should start heading back now. I know it’s not that late but if we zig-zag through the forest a bit and just head in the general direction of out of the forest, instead of heading to the forest road first, it’ll take a bit longer and that way we’ll also be able to see more” said Adam, who then received a few words and nods of agreement.
Tom too, found it a perfectly reasonable suggestion, since it would be a waste to just retrace their steps and also because he didn’t want to sleep outside of the town for the night. He’d gotten quite used to his comfortable bed in the hotel he was staying at and didn’t fancy exchanging that for the ground.
According to Adam’s suggestion, they started to make their way out of the forest, traveling not towards the forest road, nor directly towards Acorn, until after an hour of travel, a sweet smell in the air caused them stop in their tracks.
Looking around and sniffing the air, Tom didn’t understand what was causing the sweet smell which was pervading the air around him; however, the more experienced members of the group had joyous expressions on their faces.
“Tom, everyone, quickly look around. There are spirit herbs here. Oh, but be careful as well. Qi beasts tend to hang around spirit herbs so there might be some around here” said Adam, before dismounting from his horse.
Adam, Marcus, Harrison, Avery, Pike and Bartholomew all were a bit eager at the moment and understandably so, because spirit herbs were useful in both cultivation and alchemy. Even without personally using them, they would still fetch a fair price if sold and in fact, they were the main reason people ventured into the Tainted Forest besides hunting qi beasts.
From the strength of the scent in the air, these more experienced members of the group could tell that the nearby spirit herbs were of good quality. Of course, being only this far into the forest, they would hardly be exceptional, perhaps at best being comparable to a low rank qi stone, but they were still well worth having. Besides, the smell indicated that there would be more than just one or two and since they were so small, it would be easy to collect them all and put them on the wagon.
At this moment, the various members of the group were all having different thoughts. Adam was thinking about the prospect of sending them back to the clan to be burned in Hill City’s qi furnaces, though he was also wary of his surroundings, Marcus was thinking about collecting them as alchemical ingredients for his family and the guards were thinking about the extra pay they would inevitably receive because of this find.
Tom though, was the least enthusiastic among this group. He did in fact hold a mild interest in these spirit herbs that he had never seen before, however, he wasn’t unfamiliar with the concept. Even if he was unfamiliar with the particular herbs that were present here, he had seen many such things on countless different worlds. Besides, in the end, they were nothing more than qi beasts themselves, albeit plant qi beasts that weren’t actually sentient. Heck, even humans were technically qi beasts.
As they were looking around, Adam finally spotted what they were looking for and smiled.
“I found them” he called out.
“They’re milk poppies and fragrant sweet orchids” he said, pointing to the location where groups of flowers with pure white petals and groups with violet petals could be seen around a couple of trees.
“Adam, I need some of the milk poppies. They can be used to alleviate pain and one of my uncles recently got injured in the forest. They’d be a great help for him while he recovers” said Marcus.
“Yeah, no problem, you were going to be getting some anyway. After all, I’m the one who asked you to join this trip. I wasn’t about to just take everything for myself. But if you need the milk poppies more then we can just divvy it up accordingly” responded Adam.
Truth be told, looking at the spirit herbs present, Adam wasn’t that bothered about which ones he got. The milk poppies were of use in alchemy and medicine when concocting pain medicine and the fragrant sweet orchids were sometimes used to make perfumes, however, none of this mattered to Adam. Anything he took would just be burned in a qi furnace anyway. Besides, even if he did have some alchemical interest in them, the Cardinal clan didn’t actual have any alchemists so it became a bit of a moot point.
Of course, Adam wasn’t the only person here who would be receiving the spirit herbs. A third of them would naturally be going to Tom, though since he didn’t voice any objection at the words of Adam or Marcus, Adam assumed he had no problem with what was said and decided upon.
Adam, looking at the spirit herbs in front of him, couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed because they weren’t actually as high quality as he thought they’d be. It wasn’t unreasonable to believe that there might be high quality spirit herbs around since high quality spirit herbs would often give off more powerful scents, however, in this case it was just the powerful smell produced by fragrant sweet orchids.
Interestingly, the reason that fragrant sweet orchids released such a powerful sweet smelling scent was because they actually unconsciously used their qi to empower the scent they released. This, however, was a bit unfortunate for Adam because it actually resulted in them having a lower content of stored qi and even after they were picked, they would still lose a little bit of qi by doing this.
Overall, in both qi content and material worth, the milk poppies were more valuable than the fragrant sweet orchids. Marcus asking for the milk poppies might have caused some conflict had this been a group of complete strangers, but, it wasn’t a group of strangers. Marcus was Adam’s friend, so, when he asked for the higher valued milk poppies and gave his reason why, Adam wasn’t about to deny him. Besides, the majority of the spirit herbs here were fragrant sweet orchids anyway and if Marcus was only going to take milk poppies, it would just mean that Adam and Tom would each end up taking more of the fragrant sweet orchids, which would even everything out, especially because of what each of them would end up using their respective hauls for.
Well… Adam didn’t actually know for sure what Tom would end up using them for but he assumed he would either directly try absorbing the qi from them to aid in his cultivation or send them back to the clan since he hadn’t actually been working for the past several months and was racking up a bit of a net loss for the clan, what with the cost of the hotel he was staying at and also the wages of the guards who were accompanying him, who were receiving higher pay for it, all of which was coming out of the clan’s and Gerald’s pockets.
Of course, Tom had some of his own money saved up, but, ultimately, the previous Tom Cardinal didn’t actually earn that much, certainly not enough to support the current lifestyle Tom was living and although his father and the clan could easily pay for him, they were only willing to give financial support up to a certain limit, so as not to encourage laziness on Tom’s behalf.
Tom, Adam, Marcus and the others all began making their way over to where the spirit herbs were when they suddenly heard a buzzing noise.
“Well that’s not good” said Lance, as everyone started looking around.
“Hah” sighed Adam.
“I knew it wouldn’t be that easy”